The recent fun with the drama surrounding Eric Belanger’s impending re-signing with the Washington Capitals is that it’s created the more intriguing stir about what move the Capitals are going to make to help Belanger better fit into the fold. While initial rumor mongering suggested that Tomas Fleischmann could be the guy heading out of town, Capitals blog Japers Rink has someone else in mind to ship out of town should the Caps need to do it. J.P. suggests that David Steckel is the guy being eyeballed by Caps GM George McPhee.
Belanger, [Mathieu] Perreault, [Marcus] Johansson, [Brooks] Laich and Fleischmann are probably all in the running for the second-line center spot (in varying degrees) at present, with one of Laich and Flash also as potential top-six wingers. No matter how that shakes out, Belanger, Laich and Fleischmann are locks for second or third line spots, with Alexander Semin also a second-line lock and Eric Fehr sure to be a top-nine forward. That leaves four forward spots (likely the third-line center and the entire fourth line) up for grabs, with Johansson the most likely candidate for the third-line center spot and Perreault, Gordon, Steckel, Matt Bradley and D.J. King fighting for three positions (to say nothing of a Hershey guy like Jay Beagle or Andrew Gordon making a bid). That’s quite the logjam on the back end.
So if the Caps had their choice of whom to move from that surplus of checking forwards, who would they want to trade? Perreault has value as a fill-in on a higher line, especially if prized prospect Johansson isn’t quite ready for the NHL. Bradley is a heart-and-soul leader, with a manageable contract – one year, $1 million. Gordon really stepped up his game in the playoffs last spring, but more importantly has a good deal – one year, $800,000. The Caps actively sought out King last month, so it surely wouldn’t be him.
That leaves David Steckel, a fine enough fourth-liner (though be careful not to overstate the importance of a good faceoff percentage – see here, here and here), but with a bad contract, one that will pay him $1,100,000 in each of the next three seasons. It’s not a cripplingly bad deal, of course, but rather one that’s tough to love for a guy whose game regressed in 2009-10 (I strongly recommend re-reading his Rink Wrap) and who was a healthy scratch in four of the seven playoff games, when cheaper checkers like Blair Betts (and Boyd Gordon) seem to be available every summer.
With that sort of contract for Steckel, it makes a ton of sense to want to potentially deal off the face-off specialist fourth liner. After all, if you’re making over a million dollars, playing a handful of minutes doesn’t quite make that financial investment worthwhile, especially on a fixed budget like the salary cap. Swapping out Steckel to a team looking for a player of his caliber (checking center, great with face-offs) looking to move a player with a larger salary can work for the Caps. The Caps aren’t in immediate danger of the salary cap and could stand to take on something a little bit bigger in return provided it’s not a long term contract. So who could that mean they’d be interested in?
Could the Caps expect to get much of anything in return for Steckel? Probably not, unless they found a potential trade partner who was looking to unload a moderate salary to free up some cap space… which is where a team like Vancouver comes in. Say they move the oft-rumored Kevin Bieksa for Steckel. The ‘Nucks save $2.65 million of cap hit (coincidentally, nearly the exact amount of salary they need to drop, per CapGeek), move a player from a position of overflowing depth, and better their bottom-six forwards. The Caps, in such a move, would upgrade their defense, move a player from a position of overflowing depth, be out from under Steckel’s deal for the next three years, and pick up an affordable – and expiring – deal in Bieksa. Because it rids the team of a bad contract, a deal like that makes sense for the Caps in a way that signing Willie Mitchell doesn’t (though, to be sure, a Mitchell signing makes sense in numerous ways this hypothetical would not, namely providing more of what the Caps need on the ice).
And, boom, you’ve got yourself a deal that makes sense for both parties involved money-wise.
There is a catch here though. The Canucks have added Manny Malhotra who is a more talented version of Steckel and also making a bit more money as well. Malhotra figures to be the team’s third line center while Rick Rypien could be the guy that holds down the fourth line. Rypien is a scrapper unafraid to drop the gloves if need be and an ideal energy line brand of player. If the Canucks are that eager to move some money off the cap, and they do have a surplus of defensemen even with Sami Salo out with an injury, taking on Steckel would only help them out with forward depth.
This is all idle speculation and trade-crafting at its best, but this is a situation where one often rumored player-to-be-traded fits into the needs of what another newly rumored player-to-be-traded can do for the other team.